takes branding higher

Bruce Linton has gotten above it all, and he likes what he sees.

The general manager of recently took to the skies aboard the company’s namesake balloon, a 105-ft. tall, 1,520-sq. ft. Aero30 model that will

be flying from a launch pad at Exhibition Place in Toronto. Described as the world’s largest tethered helium balloon, the Aero30 will be taking up to 30 passengers at a time throughout the summer and early fall, all under the Canadian IT vendor’s brand name.

“”You get up there and it’s totally peaceful,”” Linton says. “”You can see this traffic screaming by everywhere, and the view of the city — you just feel like you can almost grab the city a little bit and see what’s going on.””, which focuses primarily on the small business market, has been slowly building up awareness as an online entity through partnerships with NexInnovations and public relations activities. Linton recently spoke with Pipeline to discuss why, after years of an IT spending drought, now believes the sky’s the limit.

Pipeline: How long have you been trying to get this thing off the ground?

Bruce Linton: We’ve actually been working on this now for close to two years. If you were to say to an aviation authority, “”What is it? How would you like to regulate it?”” because it does carry passengers up and down — it’s not a hot air balloon, it’s not an airplane. It’s sort of had to go through this whole process to becoming a regulated vehicle — or vessel, I’m not sure what the right term would be. There was pretty rigorous involvement with a lot of federal/provincial authorities. Prior to the first voyage, there was all this that had to be set in place so that they could come in and inspect it.

We thought it’d be great because it’s pretty unique. It’s pretty obvious when you’re travelling along the Gardiner (Expressway) this sticks out far more than any billboard. It was good timing for us, because one year ago we were just still building the business. This was a nice time when you actually have lots of reference customers and things like that to do some stories.

Pipeline: What kind of signs have you been seeing in the IT industry that told you this was a good time for such a broad visibility campaign?

BL: It’s just been from our experience so far. We’ve been building and getting customers every day for the last 18 months. So there’s two things that have to come into play when you’re going to be more visible. One is that there are people ready to buy, and that you’re ready to provide them with some differentiated products and services. We just find there are a lot more people in the small business segment who are contacting us, saying, “”I know I need to move to this level of firewall, this level of servers. I’m not moving there unless I have somebody who can look after it, that’s a company, not one individual.”” It’s a case of, “”You look after the hassle, not me,”” kind of a deal.

Pipeline: We saw a lot of marketing budgets cut during the downturn, and others in the industry have told us they need to justify how marketing efforts lead to customers making purchases. How do you do that with a balloon?

BL: Computerland is a name that more than half of our (potential) customers know. What we’re trying to say is that you do know us, and we’re visible, but we’re not necessarily visible attached to a building. We’re visible as a dot-ca and when you see the balloon, it’s branded as dot-ca. Over a couple of decades, there are and continue to be a lot of Computerlands around the globe. If you just came here from Indonesia, you’re familiar with Computerland. If you just came here from Russia, you’re familiar with Computerland. We just needed to make sure people knew we were, and that’s a big part of this strategy to get this out. We’re using the dot-ca to bring people to us to make that first transaction, then we’re using the site as well as telesales to move them through to bigger items and larger services engagements.

Pipeline: The only thing I’ve heard of us like this in the domain-name area is, which had planes flying around with their banners a few years ago.

BL: Yes, and it is incredibly much more affordable to do it today. It not only gives you a better return, but when you’re starting from a cost point that’s far less, it just makes everything come together. We’ve found a significant increase in traffic, and a significant increase in inquiries and transactions. The only that changes is, I’m used to all my traffic being acquired through direct methods. So I can see how I’m spending at Google or Overture or on banner and correlate that to specific transactions. This one’s just a more broad-based, “”Yes, it’s been increasing.””

Pipeline: How will you be complementing what you’re doing with the balloon in more traditional marketing activities?

BL: We do a little bit of that traditional media advertising, but we’re way more focused on the vertical markets. So with parties like the Canadian Medical Association, for example, for the last nine months we’ve been their national sponsor on all their IT forums. We’ve been a sponsor for all the lead events where doctors want to talk and think about moving from a bunch of paper and that multi-colour rainbow they have inside the front office to an IT-centric model where they can do everything on electronic records and we install it all, maintain it and support it. That’s where we do the balloon to people to know us, and then vertical slices so that the people who are making buying decisions can talk to us in a common way. We’re trying to be more focused on, “”Let us look after your business,”” rather than just your next MP3 player.

Pipeline: You develop closer customer relationships that way.

BL: Yeah, and we’re really the only people in Canada with the employed IT resources to show up at your site anywhere. With 600 to 700 people purely in the IT support area, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Northern Manitoba or downtown T.O., we can have somebody down there selling and supporting. So you want to certainly sell products that can use those people.

Pipeline: You mentioned online marketing like Google. Is that still viable for your business?

BL: I’m strongly of the opinion that it is worth it, but you have to really work it. We probably have now somewhere in the range of 14,000, 15,000 active cost-per-click terms between Google and Overture. You have to look at what you’re spending on each area and the conversion rates. It’s not like something where you put that sign on the building and you’re done. Every day those campaigns have to be monitored and amended. And then it’s really worth it: You can see a huge percentage of new business coming from those campaigns. You can say, “”Did they buy?”” Not the first time, but that’s how you become front-of-mind when they’re specifically looking for a product.

Pipeline: As for the balloon, how long are you sponsoring it?

BL: The way it works is that it’s a seasonal vessel. It flies from now through to October, depending on the weather, and then it’s off again next spring. We have a long-term deal with a bunch of different options, but really you get the most excited the first year. I haven’t heard about any accidents yet on the Gardiner, but hopefully people are taking a look now more than they ever will.

Comment: [email protected]

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